Backlog of eye appointments in Nunavut leads to frustration in Cambridge Bay

John Lyall Jr. has been waiting three years for an appointment with an eye doctor. (Submitted by John Lyall Jr. - image credit)
John Lyall Jr. has been waiting three years for an appointment with an eye doctor. (Submitted by John Lyall Jr. - image credit)

It's been five years since John Lyall Jr. last updated his prescription glasses, even though he's been eligible for a new pair for the last three years. He said he's been waiting since then for an appointment with an eye doctor.

Lyall Jr., who lives in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, says his current glasses are getting to be worse for wear.

"They've been scratched and damaged for at least two years," he said. "I feel like I'm being ignored and I don't know why."

Lyall Jr. said he regularly puts his name on the waiting list to see an optometrist but never gets a call back. He said he made his last appointment in September 2022 for sometime in December, but then he didn't hear anything.

"No phone call, no nothing."

Lyall Jr. said his uncle, Isaac Kaotalok, has been waiting even longer for an appointment.

"He's using sunglasses and other broken glasses to repair his own glasses. So when you see my uncle, one eye has shade, but the glass lens is glued to the sunglasses and the other side of the eye is just regular glasses. And I don't think that's right."

'Gaps in services'

Nunavut's Department of Health is responsible for vision care services for all eligible Nunavut Inuit, which is covered under the federal government's non-insured health benefits (NIHB) program for First Nations and Inuit.

The department typically brings a service provider with a travelling team of ophthalmic technicians to communities.

Submitted by John Lyall Jr.
Submitted by John Lyall Jr.

But staff there admit there's a backlog in services, and waitlists for eye services in almost every community.

"Due to the pandemic there were gaps in services," said Robyn Clarke, executive director of health for the Kitikmeot region. "Unfortunately, we had a lot of travel restrictions which inhibited our teams and contractors from being able to come into our region and provide the services."

Clarke said changes are coming to vision care in the territory.

The NIHB program is funding additional service provider support for 2022-2023, which will see more eye care visits. Starting in April, a new contract will ensure more eye teams are travelling to communities.

Clarke confirmed that NIHB offers $300 toward glasses every two years, or every year for those who are eligible and under 19, or in the case of a substantial change in prescription.

As for Lyall Jr. and his uncle, Clarke said she's never heard of anyone waiting so long for a new pair of glasses.

She encouraged anyone having difficulty accessing health care to contact their local health centre and ask where they are on the waitlist.

She also encourages people to contact the office of patient relations at 1-855-438-3003 if they want to discuss their health-care experience.

Clarke said the patient relations team will then reach out to her and she can follow up with local health-care providers.

"That is usually the best and the quickest route for us to be able to resolve inquiries and questions or any concerns," she said.